Over the past ten years, Jimmy Standley has gone from college entrepreneur to president and CEO of an expanding bicycle company. He’s navigated the difficulties of working with friends, managing supply chains and producing unique products that people actually want to buy. And it all started with a simple idea: more people should ride bikes.
Jimmy Standley is the President/CEO of Solé Bicycles, a company based in Los Angeles. Almost a decade ago, Standley and a group of friends started the company while still in college and have since expanded to include a variety of bicycle models, designs and colors. While his original group of friends went on to different business ventures, Standley stayed with Solé Bicycles and has expanded it to include two storefronts and a growing online presence.
We spoke with Standley about Solé Bicycles and his experiences in entrepreneurship.
So about ten years ago, I was going to Chapman University and my two partners that I ended up starting the business with were at USC. At the time we saw these like New York fixie riders who were riding these bikes that were built up from scratch and were going to cost $1,000 to $2,000 to get one. So we wanted to make an all in one bike for a fraction of the cost.
I came from a music background and my partners were fashion guys, so we were really inspired by that in how we designed our products. We almost looked at the business like a fashion company instead of like a bicycle brand. So you can see this in the colors and the way we market our products and collaborations. We took this unique approach to the bicycle industry and that’s how it's gotten to where we are today.
It was crazy. We launched it with a business plan competition with a little company called Alibaba. At the time, they were just getting off the ground, and now it's a big sourcing company in China. We won this grant for like twenty thousand bucks, got put on a plane over to China, met with those suppliers and bought our first round of bikes.
We were running the business while in college. We were selling bikes out of our houses and frat houses, and it was like a true hustle. We went through college, and once we graduated we were making enough to pay for rent and pay for food, so we stuck with it. A lot of other fun stuff happened in between, but yeah, it was a crazy experience as a student.
From a product standpoint, a lot of our original color lays we still have, which is amazing to see over like ten years. As the brand grew, a lot of people actually reached out to us and liked the design of our bike and wanted custom bikes. So now we’ve made bikes for anyone from Coca-Cola to Beats by Dre, a Sophie Tucker bike ... all kinds of custom bikes, which has been really cool to build out the brand. When we originally started, we never would have thought of doing that.
Get more people on bikes. I think for us, our approach to the bicycle industry is we want to make something that is very simple, easy to use and easy to maintain, and also has this lifestyle aspect to it. Our hope is there’s something for just about anyone and all types of people, whether it's someone who’s never ridden before to someone who could be a professional rider who just wants to get around town.
I think the brand and the product, you know, even if it's as simple as the two stripe branding, a lot of people end up getting a Solé and like that the product looks really simple and it's minimalistic and very clean. We [also] stripped back the bike and made it as simple as possible, so I think that sets it apart from more traditional bike brands.
I think a lot of it comes down to the color and design you like, and then we have certain bikes that are more road style, some more aggressive, a little bit faster. There’s our single speeds, fixed gear bikes, versus our coastal cruisers and our Dutch step and our city bikes.
I think for customers, it's: how do you want to ride?
How much time do you have? We had an old saying with my original partners: the highs are high and the lows are low. I mean we’ve had everything from lawsuits to partner problems to trying to come up with money.
In the early days, I always made a point of finding good advisors for all aspects of the business. So as we went through those challenges, there were always people I could lean on to help us through it.
One would be to take risks and go out there and try new things. In college, too, whether you’re trying to start your own business, whether you’re going to work for startups or get internships, just try a lot of things. It's super hard when you’re that age to know what you want to do in life, so go out and try a bunch of things to figure out what you’re super passionate about.
Second thing is to just work hard. Hard work is hard to replace, so whatever you do, just work hard at it.
And three, just have fun. I mean that was like the big thing for us. Our first three or four years of running this business, it was a lot of building the business, but we were also traveling the world and having great experiences and having fun while doing it.
I would say I owe the success to a lot of the people that advised and helped me. If anyone who ends up seeing this needs some advice or wants someone to talk to about entrepreneurship, about their business, about what they would want to do after college, I’m happy to speak with anyone.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
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